I skated today for the first time in 9 weeks on this cold bright January morning. I headed off to Vic park early, knowing the rink would be mostly mine, which is for the best as i know I’m in no shape to actually skate with others around me yet. I took my stick and couple of pucks and felt a tiny surge of excitement to see how I felt. There was a young man on the ice already, with his son, a boy of 5 or 6. I skated at one end of the massive sheet, they at the other. At one point my puck danced away and the boy was only too happy to dart over and pass it back to me. I grinned and gave him a hearty thank you and he flashed a big smile and skated away in a burst. There were days not so long ago where my son and daughters skated alongside with me here when they were his age. And I remember being that small once and skating with my own father at the open air rinks in Peterborough – Bonnerworth, the Trent canal, Hillside street park. Good memories all.
I was in my element again and it felt good. A clean sheet of ice is the most creative thing I’ve ever known. Turn left, turn right, quick steps to full speed, glide, turn, stick handle or let the puck do the work. In my later years, I’ve never played the game in a way where my movements are planned. It’s one of the beautiful parts of playing for fun, of shinny. It’s movement guided by some primal, instinctive compass, long since obsolete now that we don’t have to outrun woolly mammoths and such. Bobby Orr has suggested more than once that we are systemically removing the creativity of generation after generation of hockey players in favour of structure and systems. I couldn’t agree more.
Handling the puck was magical. My hands were fine and little strength was needed for the simple maneuvers I tried. The burden of an injured shoulder hasn’t stolen that gem. I was able to pass the puck off the frozen boards back to myself, and able to fire the puck smoothly along the ice at the net. Ah, the clank of the puck hitting a pipe net at an open air rink. A different type of pipe organ, but beautiful music indeed.
Sadly, it didn’t take long for the instinctive side of me to get overruled by my mind flashing a mental “careful” sign as I approached anything beyond the slowest speed I know. The thinking part of the brain telling the rest of me this was premature and foolish. A fall on to my gimpy wing would be a very bad thing. This will be the part of playing I will miss the most if my shoulder always requires an element of caution from this point forward if at some point I am able to play again. I may not be young anymore, but the rink is the only place in my life where I have done anything with any measure of abandon. I was never a physical player, being not strong enough for that game, but I rarely backed away from going to the puck, or taking it to the net regardless of the opponent, and I was always happy to try the impossible pass, or slide through the slightest of lanes between players
In all, I skated only 10 minutes. The weight of the puck on the stick for just that length of time began to play a different kind of music in my shoulder very quickly. Pain on the end of the clavicle as it pushed up unrestricted into the muscle on the top of the shoulder. I picked up my puck and head back to the car, hopped in and started to remove my skates. As I did so, a man about the same age as the one with the young son already on the rink walked by with an older man by his side who was obviously his father. Skates on sticks over shoulders, toques on heads, they headed to the sheet I had just left.
I have been the young boy, and I have been the young father. Shoulder be damned, I will be the old man in skates and toque yet.